Body and Emotion: The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas

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A focused, relaxed meditation on the five colored directions: yellow, white, red, green, blue. A sense of the five colors flowing from the altar through my body, like a rainbow, from my buttocks up along my spine—flowing in rhythm with my breath. Metaphoric parallels pass quickly, simultaneous awareness.

But to me, the isomorphism that developed between my trances and Yolmo aesthetic forms does not suggest that I became, either in trance or everyday life, a Yolmo wa, or that I experienced what Yolmo experience.

Body and Emotion

Rather, I became a strange hybrid, caught in a no-man's-land betwixt and between cultures, learning something of a visited way of life yet relying heavily on my own. But perhaps it is precisely in the clash between world-views, in the tension between symbolic systems how reality is defined, the body held, or experience articulated , that some anthropological insights emerge. One learns of another way of being and feeling through contrast, noting the differences that make a difference.

By participating in the everyday life of a society distinct from one's own, an ethnographer confronts and slowly learns often tacitly but always partially patterns of behavior previously unfamiliar to his or her body. In my experience, it is through this behavioral reworking that the differences characterizing two forms of life become most apparent; novel ways of moving, talking, and interacting contribute to a visceral appreciation of the forces that occasion those actions. This book, then, is a meditation on Yolmo forms of life as I came to understand them, with the tools I had on hand: a mix of shamanic practice, embodied knowledge, and persistent note-taking.

Through this meditation, I wish to advance a way of writing ethnography that includes the reader's body as much as the author's in the conversation at hand. Reflecting on my trance experiences and the images that flowed from them, I am reminded of Marianne Moore's definition of poetry's subject matter.

Poets, for Moore, need to be literalists of the imagination, presenting for inspection imaginary gardens with real toads in them. The imaginary trance gardens, populated with fierce tigers, dark caves, and archetypal old men, were fertile and febrile. I played a Bergmanesque game of chess with Death in May with black and white gtor ma cakes ; flew eaglelike above the Himalayas in June an account of which drew peels of laughter from the festive audience: Tell us again, Meme Bombo, where you went to! The latter vision quest, which occurred on the occasion of a healing for Mingma Lama, a frail old man who lost several of his life supports srog after the death of two close friends, began as follows:.

From the beginning, a sense of walking in a wasteland. A desert, parched, dry. A dead fish rotting in a dried-up river bed. A burnt tree, ash-covered. A bird hangs upside down on one limb; on closer inspection I see it is stuffed, fragile, held to the tree by cheap metal wires.

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The air is very hot, but no direct sunlight, only haze. A half moon seen, waning. I am alone, wandering.

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Yet a sense that ahead in the distance there is a mountain; trees, flowers, water. It is as if I need to go to this mountain, a domain of life. I now notice that in the wasteland there are underground pathways of energy; I am reminded of the aboriginal songlines of Australia.


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I understand that these pathways are of symbolic energy, of a special type of music rhythms of vitality. These pathways are the antithesis of earthquakes, for they integrate rather than destruct the earth. Despite the phantasmagoric nature of these visions, with their wastelands and personalized symbols, a few toads apparently revealed themselves. The first real toad was the imaginary garden itself. The trances, facilitated through driving, repetitive music, induced a mode of consciousness in which mythopoeic, image-based thought predominates, a dreamlike process linked to altered and shamanic states of consciousness in both Western and non-Western contexts.

In this instance, thinking worked through analogy, metaphor, and metonym, a form of experience that often has therapeutic import. On reflection, many of the images did serve to represent, capture, and illuminate psychological dimensions of my life at the time, possibly engaging a therapeutic, transcendent function, as Jung put it. In several caves, in turn, I happened on a skeleton devoured by a fierce tiger but then reassembled into a tiger or an old man.

In the front of the cave, there are scattered bones. In the back, a tiger transforms back and forth into a decrepit old man. This creature tells me the bones are mine, while numerous tigers, ghost-like, devour them. Just inside the cave, on the left side, a leopard's skin hangs from the wall. Bones lie in a pile below this. Next to the bones is an extinguished fire. Less than one month after arriving in Helambu, I attended the healing ceremony for Sumjok, a quiet married woman who fell seriously ill after a miscarriage.

Tense, withdrawn, silent, Sumjok lay on a cot as Meme divined the causes of illness the assault of the ri bombo , the forest shaman who. This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue? Upload Sign In Join. Home Books Society. Save For Later. Create a List.


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Summary Body and Emotion is a study of the relationship between culture and emotional distress, an examination of the cultural forces that influence, make sense of, and heal severe pain and malaise. Read on the Scribd mobile app Download the free Scribd mobile app to read anytime, anywhere. Part I Loss 1. Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads While conducting fieldwork in the late s among Yolmo Sherpa, an ethnically Tibetan people who live in the Helambu region of northcentral Nepal, I participated in some twenty-odd healing ceremonies as the shamanic apprentice to a veteran grandfather healer called Meme t.

Photo 1.

Meme Bombo. Location of research area in Nepal. Figure 2.

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Map of Helambu. Figure 3. Map of Gulphubanyang region. Photo 2. Gulphubanyang, Photo 3. The author, in trance. But during the last few healings, the visions became more controlled, centered, steadied: timeless meditations on the culturally constituted homologies of altar, body, and geography—as expressed in some field notes recorded on the night of an October healing, six months after arriving in Helambu: The images arrive very focused, concentric: an awareness of a landscape outside, hills and green pastures.

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The latter vision quest, which occurred on the occasion of a healing for Mingma Lama, a frail old man who lost several of his life supports srog after the death of two close friends, began as follows: From the beginning, a sense of walking in a wasteland. Sitting, shaking, a sensation that I am part tiger, possessing a tiger's tail. Start your free 30 days. This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless. Institutional Login. LOG IN. In this Book. Additional Information. Table of Contents. Cover Download Save.

Contents p. Illustrations pp. Acknowledgments pp. Note on Transcription p. After sipping tea with his family, I would tag along as Meme ambled in the twilight shadow toward his patient's house. Until early morning, when I usually fell asleep, I assisted Meme in the limited ways I could, helping him to "play the drum," sacrifice chickens, and beseech the gods to enter our bodies. Footsore, smoke-eyed, I approached these evenings with a combined sense of apprehension, fatigue.

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